Douglas’ Admin Disappeared Emails

Here is a little fur-ball of an issue that got carried along between two administrations. Important emails between former Governor Douglas’ Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) officials involved in a legal dispute with the Vermont State Employees Association were deleted and are missing. The VSEA originally sought ANR email records concerning a fired employee and a proposed computer employee monitoring system then the Douglas administration attempted to impose a $1,200 fee to access the email. The VSEA went to court against the Douglas administration and won the right to see the email free of charge.

A small scale Vermont version of the historic eighteen and one half minute gap? Fast forward to the Shumlin administration and the discovery now, that the relevant emails at some point were deleted.

When Abigail Winters, the union’s counsel, went to see the records, Shumlin officials at ANR told her the items couldn’t be found. Winters sent a letter to Jeb Spaulding, the secretary of the Agency of Administration, and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell on Monday, alleging that the email correspondence was “willfully and permanently” deleted. Sorrell, she wrote, failed to place a litigation hold on the documents.

The Shumlin administration has given a high priority to transparency. Secretary of State Jim Condos recently completed what he called a “transparency tour”  to help the state’s public officials. Regarding transparency (digital and otherwise) Condos suggests the problem might lie with starving beast budget priorities:

“It’s an ongoing process that frankly needs resources,” he said. “With all due respect to the current administration and the past administration, a lot of those resources have been taken away because budgets have been cut and slashed and personnel reduced.

However Shumlin’s  Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding sounded a wee bit bristly about the attention the deleted email issue has generated and wished the VSEA had come to him before going to the press.

He was nonplussed by the attention the issue had generated among members of the media, and said it was a distraction from his work-[on LIHEAP]

In contrast Attorney General Sorrel seems more laid back about the issue. He has now started an inquiry but originally never imposed a litigation hold on relevant material-yet says if deleting the emails was intentional it shouldn’t have happened: “If they were deleted and not retrieved, then that was a total mistake and shouldn’t have happened. But we don’t know and we won’t know for days.”

Finally, at least to many untutored in these mysterious rules and rituals it might seem there is actually a law that may apply here. But what the heck, guess it’s not as if it is as important as a SSB (Sugar Sweetened Beverage) or something like that.

Disposition of public records – A custodian of public records shall not destroy, give away, sell, discard, or damage any record or records in his or her charge, unless specifically authorized by law or under a record schedule approved by the state archivist pursuant to 3 V.S.A. { 117(a)(5).

 

9 thoughts on “Douglas’ Admin Disappeared Emails

  1. but hardly surprising, given what I have been told about the culture in the ANR in the latter years of the Douglas administration…some of which probably carried forward seamlessly into the Shumlin administration, despite the best efforts of Deb Markowitz and company.

    It will probably take years to put that house in order again, an effort that is, no doubt, further hamstrung by exactly what you say, “starving the beast.”

    I give a great deal of credit to Markowitz for doggedly advocating for greater transparency and accountability in the Agency, but it ain’t gonna happen overnight.

    Also, I was very impressed with the local presentation given by Jim Condos.  I believe he takes these issues seriously.  

    It is my hope that these two together can change the cozy culture of state and local government in which, inconvenient records get buried, conflicts of interest are rationalized away and an “old boys club” mentality plays fast and loose with the open meeting law.

  2. First of all, let’s establish that the Douglas Administration shouldn’t have deleted the e-mails, and if they did, they should be called on the carpet for it.

    Now, on to our current overlords…

    Dear Jeb Spaulding: Poor baby. Mad at the VSEA for (a) inconveniently going to the media, and (b) forcing you to do TWO THINGS AT ONCE!!!!! Sorry, no sympathy whatsoever from me. Suck it up, man.

    Dear Mr. Sorrell: Perhaps you’ve been ensconced in your secure perch a bit too long. Why didn’t you put a hold on the records? And why do you seem so casual about the whole affair? Sounds to me like you’re part of the old-boy, get-along, sweep-it-under-the-rug mentality so prevalent in Vermont.

    Dear Mr. Condos: If our state lacks the resources to carry out essential functions (i.e. maintenance and preservation of public documents), then perhaps you should have a word with your fellow Democrat, Peter Shumlin, about budgeting priorities and his steadfast opposition to minuscule tax increases on the wealthy.

    Dear Mr. Shumlin: See above.

    Sorry if all this seems a bit harsh on Democratic officeholders. But I believe that, since Dems/liberals have an inherent belief in the positive application of government power and resources, they have a special responsibility to do their damn jobs responsibly and in the public interest.  

  3. Disposition of public records – A custodian of public records shall not destroy, give away, sell, discard, or damage any record or records in his or her charge, unless specifically authorized by law or under a record schedule approved by the state archivist pursuant to 3 V.S.A. { 117(a)(5), or if the state can not afford to uphold this law because the Governor and Speaker of the House refuse to make the rich pay their fair share of the costs of fulfilling the law, in which case this law is to be ignored, because NOT taxing the wealthy is the supreme law of the land that shall supercede all others.

  4. This really pisses me off. I sincerely hope the AG pursues this vigorously. Here are a few criminal statutes that might apply in these circumstances.

    13 V.S.A. Sec. 3001. Impeding public officers

    (a) A person who hinders an executive, judicial, law enforcement, civil or military officer acting under the authority of this state or any subdivision thereof…shall be imprisoned not more than three years or fined not more than $500.00, or both.

    13 V.S.A. Sec. 3015. Obstruction of justice

    Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, intimidates or impedes any witness, grand or petit juror, or officer in or of any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or causes bodily injury to such person or intentionally damages the property of such person on account of such person’s attendance at, deliberation at, or performance of his or her official duties in connection with a matter already heard, presently being heard or to be heard before any court or agency, in a contested case, of the state of Vermont, or corruptly or by threats or force or by any threatening letter or communication, obstructs or impedes, or endeavors to obstruct or impede the due administration of justice, shall be imprisoned not more than five years or fined not more than $5,000.00, or both.

    13 V.S.A. Sec. 4104. Alteration, damage, or interference

    (a) A person shall not intentionally and without lawful authority, alter, damage, or interfere with the operation of any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, computer program, or data contained in such computer, computer system, computer program, or computer network.

    (b) Penalties. A person convicted of violating this section shall be:

    (1) if the damage or loss does not exceed $500.00 for a first offense, imprisoned not more than one year or fined not more than $500.00, or both;

    (2) if the damage or loss does not exceed $500.00 for a second or subsequent offense, imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $1,000.00, or both; or

    (3) if the damage or loss exceeds $500.00, imprisoned not more than 10 years or fined not more than $10,000.00, or both

  5. Does anyone wonder about the connection between the Irene Czar and the Kingpin of the Douglas administration, now big shot at GMP?  The deletion fo potential evidence is a big deal.  But given all the interconnections of the inner circle, don’t expect anything to actually happen.

  6. were unavailable for comment.They can get away with this despite Douglas’ public role as commenter on VPR and Lunderville’s recent busy high profile role as trouble shooting “Czar” in the Shumlin administration

    (as reelvermonter’s comment notes).

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